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Biblical Archaeology Review 47:4, Winter 2021

Strata: Test Kitchen: Surprising Samosas

Around the holidays, sharing a meal with friends and family is something we can all appreciate, perhaps even more so now. Today, we offer an excellent addition to any menu, samosa pastries from medieval Egypt.

For this recipe, Test Kitchen jumps to the 15th century C.E. Although the exact date of this recipe is unknown, there is rich documentation for the Arab culinary tradition, with more than ten surviving manuscripts. This particular samosa recipe comes from Ibn Mubarak Shah (1403–1458), a noted poet and scholar from Cairo. Little is known about Shah himself, but he was most famous for collecting works of poetry, less so for writing cookbooks.1

The recipe is vague, as many ancient recipes tend to be. BAR had to make some major adjustments, including creating our own sweetmeat recipe and testing out different samosa shapes.

A sweetmeat is anything heavily sugared or candied. Fruits are typically made into sweetmeats as they mix well with sugar—becoming candied fruits, which can then be preserved to be eaten out of season. I chose dates and walnuts, as both would have been readily available in 15th-century Egypt.

Kunafa was a little trickier, as it’s described as a “paper-thin pancake made on a special polished griddle.” I used phyllo dough, as it’s paper thin, but it was very challenging to work with. Next time I would try to layer it or perhaps even attempt to make my own.

The smells of dates, cinnamon, and cardamom filled the house as we made the samosas, creating a warm and inviting home on a cold winter’s day.—J.D.

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